Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah
Photo: AP
Rally for Hizbullah in Beirut
Photo: AFP
Poster of Nasrallah near Hizbullah outpost
Photo: Rinat Malkes

Nasrallah won, and lost

Despite Nasrallah’s boastful claims, Hizbullah didn’t win war by knockout

Two years have passed since the Second Lebanon War, and Hizbullah is vigorously preparing for the festivities to welcome Samir Kuntar, the bodies of roughly 200 Lebanese terrorists from the past 30 years, and the release of several Palestinians. Seemingly, this is the final act of the war that broke out two years ago, with Hizbullah winning by knockout. But is that indeed the case? Reality is a bit more complex than that.


In retrospect, we can summarize the gains and losses on each side, Israel and Hizbullah, against the backdrop of the upcoming swap. The bottom line is as follows: Each side gained something and lost something. Does this reality need to concern Israel? This is another question, but here we shall only deal with the Lebanese perspective.


We should honestly admit, even if this is difficult, that Hizbullah registered several significant achievements. Even if these accomplishments seem disproportional, in Israeli eyes, to the ruin and destruction it brought upon Lebanon, in Lebanese and Arab eyes they are nonetheless yet another sign of Nasrallah’s “credibility.”


First, we have the release of all Lebanese prisoners, headed by Kuntar, and the transfer of all the bodies of Lebanese terrorists. Thus, Nasrallah is again delivering on his pledge big time, after he already delivered on the territorial front upon the IDF’s withdrawal from south Lebanon (he invented the “Shebaa Farms controversy” only to justify the ongoing conflict.)


Secondly, in military terms, Hizbullah is now estimated to possess about three times as many rockets as it did on the eve of the war. Despite Resolution 1701, which put an end to the war, the organization has deployed weapons in south Lebanon as well. Its strategic infrastructure is still being built, as attested to by the crisis in Lebanon over the group’s independent communication system, which is being constructed across the nation. This is also an achievement, particularly following a war that promised to remove Hizbullah from southern Lebanon.


Veto power  

The Lebanese political angle, which does not always enjoy prominent coverage in Israel, has immense implications. Had he wanted to, Nasrallah could have completed the “semi-coup” perpetrated by his group against Lebanon’s government several months ago. If he becomes Lebanon’s official ruler in the future, the situation on our northern border shall be wholly different.


One way or another, the past two years have been good to the Shiite militia group. This process peaked with the “Doha Agreement,” which granted Hizbullah’s camp one third of government members, as well as practical veto power on government decisions. All of this happened following heavy clashes that were reminiscent of the Lebanese civil war. They ended with a Nasrallah victory and on a weak note for his political rivals. Had Nasrallah emerged out of the war with Israel bruised, as some argued, this display of power would not have likely succeeded.


Nasrallah is also portrayed as the one who at this time controls the spark that could set the Lebanese powder keg ablaze. If he wishes to, he can create a flare-up in a moment (and sporadic exchanges of fire are still taking place in northern Lebanon.) Yet if he wants to, he can keep the flames down and focus on other issues. For the time being, his political rivals are merely following his initiatives and steps.


Fear and criticism 

Seemingly, this is an absolute victory: Nasrallah got Kuntar back, he is boosting his military power in the south of Lebanon despite Resolution 1701, he turned into the most influential element in Lebanon, and he has veto power on the decisions of the Lebanese government (which has not yet been appointed, because his camp torpedoed it.). Yet despite all this, the picture is more complex; much more complex.


First of all, Nasrallah barely dares appear in public events, for fear that he will be targeted. One of the highlights in this respect was the funeral of his “chief of staff,” Imad Mugniyah. With the exception of a few events, where he appeared and disappeared unannounced, Nasrallah delivers his speeches via video, with no direct connection to the crowd of thousands at the square.


By doing so, Nasrallah is in fact admitting that he is unable to guarantee his own safety. When this is joined by the Mugniyah assassination, we get a rather problematic picture for Nasrallah, and at times a humiliating one.


Secondly, Nasrallah has been facing great public criticism. It isn’t easy for a Shiite militia that made pretenses of conducting itself in a responsible national manner in recent years to face such barrage of criticism from domestic rivals. It is true that words of criticism were leveled before the war, yet their tone has sharpened significantly, and it isn’t easy for Nasrallah to hear time and again that he is a “Syrian and Iranian agent,” as members of the anti-Syrian camp argue.


Forced to admit mistake 

Today it is clear that anyone who wishes to facilitate genuine national reconciliation in Lebanon will have to talk about Hizbullah’s weapons, which today seem to have no justification when it comes to safeguarding the nation – in fact, the opposite is true: These weapons brought great ruin to Lebanon.


On top of that we have Resolution 1701. Yes, it is not being fully realized, yet it still serves to significantly curtail Hizbullah’s legitimacy to act openly in the south. As we recall, Nasrallah himself agreed to accept this resolution, which limits him.


Finally, we have Nasrallah himself. The man who is not quick to acknowledge mistakes, and certainly not on such scale, was forced to admit, on television, that had he known there was “one percent chance” that the abduction of two IDF soldiers would prompt such war, he would not do what he did. This has been joined by the various justifications he had to provide in the wake of the ruin brought to Lebanon by the war. This include his argument that he “did Lebanon a favor” by pushing forward a surprise Israeli-American attack planned for that fall.


We can continue providing more reasons why Hizbullah won, or why it did not. Yet the principle is clear: The picture is much more complex than what a simplistic view may suggest. Moreover, it appears that even two years later we have not yet reached the final accord of the process that got underway on July 12, 2006. Who will ultimately have the upper hand? Nasrallah will always claim that he won by knockout, but we shall have to wait in order to really know.  


פרסום ראשון: 07.11.08, 01:04
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